As a person travelling around the world, you’ve probably heard terms like expats, immigrants, or economic migrants. These labels dominate public discourse when working abroad is discussed. All three can have a negative connotation depending on a point of view applied.

But why do people move? And what exactly do these terms mean? Does it matter which one we use?

working abroad

1. Why do people move?

Even though clusters could be formed by people, that only helps the categorisation, and thus the labelling regarding why someone decides to leave home and move to another place. For example, social scientists list the so-called push and pull factors to detect their movement.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t necessarily depict the whole picture, just a part of it. It tells something about a larger group, but not so much about the individual. Because of that, they might become a mass, and they can easily become targeted in political discourse, for example.

Also, labelling might induce stereotypes, which results in deformation of meanings of words and phrases.

working abroad

2. The definitions

It seems so obvious to look up definitions in a dictionary. Yet it must be mentioned that even explanations in dictionaries can imply certain things. If you think about it, the words entering any dictionary come from ordinary people like you.

According to the Oxford Learner’s’ Dictionary:

an expat or expatriate is a person living in a country that is not their own

a migrant is a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work

Based on these definitions, the reasoning can be that everyone who lives abroad is an expat. Of course, many associate the term expat with white, rich people from the USA, the UK, Sweden, France, etc. That has caused friction between people because many felt that is discrimination. Why are they labelled expat if someone from Romania, Hungary or Bulgaria is called a migrant or an immigrant?

Even scientists, professionals dealing with migration issues and ordinary people don’t give the same meaning when it comes to the term expat. Some say expats don’t settle down forever and will return to their homeland but they don’t specify the maximum length of their stay. Some argue expats are not moving to better their life economically but to find a more suitable place for their lifestyle.

What can be concluded then? Well, it is up to the individual how they want to be described. If you want to be an expat, be an expat. If you prefer migrant, be a migrant. Or be both!

Consider that different languages have dissimilar implications regarding the meanings of words. Compare how you use the equivalent of ‘expat’ and ‘migrant’ in your first language!

Do they mean exactly the same? Do they have a more negative or positive connotation?

working abroad

3. The economic migrant

Reading the news, this is the term that is mentioned frequently – especially if you live somewhere in the European Union or the USA. An economic migrant is a person who moves from their own country to a new country in order to find work or have a better standard of living.

That seems to be somewhat subjective again. What does better mean, right? You might move to Germany because the salaries are higher there. Your friend might decide to settle down there because the roads are better.

Better can mean a lot of things. Some say that the term migrant can indicate that the person plans to stay in the place chosen forever. But what happens if some get so homesick that they just leave and go back home anyway? So, time doesn’t help here either.

You can probably call yourself an economic migrant, though, if you move to a new place due to economic reasons: to earn more money, to be financially more secured, etc.

4. The Pros/Cons of Moving to Another Country

All expats/migrants and economic migrants can rank the pros and cons in terms of moving abroad. Then again, those will vary from person to person. The background of a person and the situation in their respective country will influence the ranking.

Generally speaking, the pros are that immigrants/expats can:

• broaden their horizon.
• experience a new culture.
• be given various opportunities.
• learn a new language.
• have access to better services and rely on a safety net.

Generally speaking, the cons are that immigrants/expats can:

• feel alone being away from family members and friends.
• be overwhelmed, and experience a cultural shock.
• face bureaucratic challenges.
• find it more difficult to find a job.

Looking into the future, we must introduce the term climate migrants or refugees as well. Scientists warn us that the next big wave of immigrants will be comprised of people who have to leave everything behind due to climate change. The lack of water, the increased temperature, frequent natural catastrophes could force residents of particular places to find a life somewhere else.

Let us finish with a short video on the pull and push factors!

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